Mastering Mindfulness: 5 Tips for Busy People
Let’s talk about distraction for a minute.
How often do you stop mid-email and move your energy to another project to address something you have forgotten? Or, do you ever stop listening mid-conversation to think about lunch?
If you pride yourself on your ability to multitask or consider yourself a slave to your scattered brain but are looking to incorporate more calm and mindfulness into your life, read on!
In our go-go-go culture, where performance-enhancing life-hacks are all the rage, we’ve all been lead to believe that busyness is an indicator of success and multi-tasking is the only way to be productive. But, I beg to differ.
In this post, you will learn how mindfulness can redirect your attention to improve and rebuild essential skills like focus and awareness. Through this practice, you can learn to become more stress-resilient and present. But, don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to carve out more time in your day. Instead, I’m sharing 5 easy ways to incorporate mindfulness into your busy lifestyle without losing more of your precious time.
What is mindfulness, anyway?
Mindfulness. The concept is everywhere. Whether you’ve heard a celebrity endorsement, read about a new meditation coach, monk or neuroscientist singing its praises, or been curious about downloading one of the many meditation apps – it’s obvious that mindfulness has gone mainstream. Still, mindfulness can seem a lofty goal for those busy among us.
First things first: what is mindfulness, really? And why is it such a ubiquitous concept these days? Let’s start with how John Kabat Zinn, creator of the Center for Mindfulness Medicine, describes it. He says mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
In the modern world, stress is the norm and is almost expected to be an integral part of our work and personal lives, but that’s not the only place where stress creeps in. There is also, subconsciously-acquired, stress from: noise pollution, commuting, screen time, social media and more. Being exposed to all of the stressors in a busy, modern-day, lifestyle releases stress hormones in the mind and body that linger there until managed or released.
Mindfulness for stress management
Mindfulness, alongside rest and physical activity, can be an important stress-management tool. According to Psychology Today; mindfulness, “has many positive benefits, including lowering stress levels, reducing harmful ruminating, improving our overall health, and protecting against depression and anxiety.”
It’s clear that practicing mindfulness can help manage your stress and hone your mind’s ability to focus and pay attention. But, you don’t have to be a Zen master to start incorporating daily mindful habits.
Here are 5 areas you can incorporate mindfulness into your busy, everyday life:
5 mindfulness tips for busy people
- Mindfulness with daily routine activities
It’s in the activities that we experience day-in and day-out that we can easily lose presence and default to auto-pilot function. It’s also in these automatic moments that we can find ourselves lost in the wandering mind. A simple shift to bring back presence and awareness into everyday life is to become more focused on your 5 senses; touch, taste, hear, smell and see.
Try applying mindfulness to cooking:
- Embrace the sight of the beautiful colours and textures of the ingredients.
- Feel the ingredients in your hands and even encourage mixing and flipping with your hands rather than using kitchen utensils (when temperature-appropriate, of course!)
- Take in the scent of the ingredients and explore the changes in the scents as ingredients are fused together in different stages of the cooking process.
Try applying mindfulness to bathing/showering:
- You can start to pay attention to the sense of touch with everybody part you are caring for.
- Often the scent of anybody or hair product can evoke a feeling of wakefulness, breathe it in.
- Sometimes the sound of water can be soothing, so you can allow the sounds to connect you to a feeling of calm.
You can apply this attention and awareness technique to many other everyday tasks from mindful eating to mindful walking.
- Observe the mind in idle time
Take a moment here to observe your next 5 thoughts and just notice.
What you may become aware of is that these thoughts will often live in the past or future. You may even notice a lot of your thoughts are in a judgemental tone (i.e., I should have done this, I could be doing that). But did you notice that through this observing, you discovered an “aerial view” of what was going on in your mind? The thoughts didn’t disappear, you just found a different relationship to them. The power in observing provides you the space to be present and choose where your thoughts lie rather than just ‘letting them happen’.
Try: When you are waiting at a stoplight, an elevator or in a coffee line, observe where your mind goes and see if you can direct your attention to your breath. Your breath will help you keep you in the moment.
- Engage in listening
Like, really, engage. The challenge to stay present in idle time is the same as the challenge to stay present when interacting with others. Notice how easy it can be to slip into your busy mind while someone is in conversation with you; a colleague will be sharing a story from the weekend and during that time you will have reviewed your last meeting, decided what to have for lunch and planned your next email. This is not really listening.
Try: Staying engaged in a conversation is an easy way to get your mindfulness practice for the day. Stay completely focused on the speaker. Keep engaged by broadening what you notice; from the tone of voice to body language. Acknowledge the speaker without judgment; you may not agree with what someone is saying but you can offer small words, such as “that’s interesting,” to practice being present and listening.
- Create a morning and bedtime ritual
Gratitude is the feel-good filter that we can apply to the constant flow of the unexpected and challenging circumstances we encounter through life. Gratitude is one of the many things cultivated within a mindfulness practice. Challenge yourself to make gratitude a daily habit and reap the rewards of more positive emotions, improved health and adversity resilience. According to a Harvard Research Article, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”
Try: An easy way to incorporate gratitude in your day is at the beginning and end of your day in a daily ritual. When you are lying in bed, take a minute to acknowledge 5 things you can offer gratitude for. If this is already something you practice, consider dedicating an hour of your day to acknowledge and feel gratitude for even the smallest things and encounters.
- Take 3 deep breaths
When you watch a baby breathe, it’s easy to see how our natural breathing pattern consists of long, deep belly breaths. By the time you are an adult, most of our breathing patterns have shifted to a shorter, shallow breath.
It’s also very common to find yourself holding your breath. Headspace, the popular meditation app, attributes this shift to “environmental stressors, like temperature, pollution, noise, and other causes of anxiety.” A deeper breath is what allows your body to shift to the calming nervous system, aka. the “parasympathetic nervous system”.
Try: To start, observe the quality of your breath by placing one hand on your chest and one on your belly and breathe normally. Notice the rise and fall of your palms. If you notice your palm on our belly is not moving than gently encourage a fuller breather to feel the palm fill up with your breath. Now that you have reminded your body how it feels to have a fuller, diaphragmatic breath, choose something you do regularly to trigger you to take 3 deep breaths. For instance, every time you sit down at your desk or pick up your phone.
See? You can be more mindful!
The most common reason I hear that people haven’t found a meditation practice is because of the time commitment. But, in the abundance of enriching experiences we all have; from travel to food festivals to family time – there is always room to practice being more present in taking those experiences in and being present. With these mindfulness tips, you could essentially be experiencing both; the ‘doing’ and the ‘being”. Imagine going to a food festival, waiting in line, accessing your 3 breaths and then, mindfully, taste testing a top chef’s creation.
Mindfulness doesn’t take more time it simply takes the time you currently have and asks you to be more present and alive with it.